And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)
Tough Love And Loving Tough
The church is made up of people and this can be a problem sometimes. Satan knows the children of God are susceptible to arguing, fussing, fighting and he works hard to cause as much disharmony in the ranks of God’s people as he can. The early church began with a powerful testimony of unity as new saints joined together as one. But problems began to arise with neglect, murmuring, lying, prejudice, false doctrine – the list goes on. Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth describes a group of saints reeling under the wiles of the devil as they fought against carnality, sexual immorality, rebellion, false doctrine, division, and a host of destructive heresies. Every church in the New Testament suffered from the blight of sin. The church at Thessalonica was no exception.
The Thessalonians were a stalwart group of disciples. Paul’s commendation of them was glowing. However, like all other churches they had problems. The apostle exhorted the brethren in his second letter to take note of anyone who would not obey the word of God as given in his letters. New Testament disciples were privileged to live in a time when men spoke from the Holy Spirt and Paul’s letters were not mere correspondences of information but holy scriptures set forth as doctrine for all to obey. Refusal to follow the tenets of early apostolic writing was rebellion against God. Paul warns the church of the Thessalonians to refuse fellowship with any who would not follow the word of God.
Discipline is two-fold. First it is established by teaching, instructing and guiding. The majority of discipline is found in the area of teaching. If instructive discipline fails there is a need for punitive discipline. Refusal to obey the instructive discipline requires an action of a punitive nature. The Holy Spirit directed that if saints at Thessalonica refused to obey the word of God they were to be punished. The intimacy of fellowship was to be withdrawn so the rebellious Christian would feel ashamed. This was an exercise of tough love but a much needed action. Like the correction of a child the punishment was intended to bring pain but with the prayer the painful experience would help to mold the heart to obedience.
One of the most important aspects of punitive discipline is to remember the rebellious brother or sister is not an enemy. When we correct our children they do not become our enemy because we still love them fervently. The purpose of the correction is to change the heart. If someone in Thessalonica refused to obey the will of the Lord the brethren were to take punitive action to cause the hearts of the rebellious to repent but in the vein of love for their souls. The admonition was from a heart of brotherly love.
It is sad to see brethren walk away from the truth. The attitudes of the heart will make brethren turn from the saving grace of God to their own desires. They are still our brethren and we should continue to pray for them. Refusal to practice church discipline in the punitive manner is rebellion against God. Churches that refuse to admonish brethren through the means of punitive discipline are rebelling against God. Souls are at stake. It takes a tough love to love people enough to exercise this kind of love.
Love is a union of wills. The perfect love of God is a perfect union of wills with God: that means the inability to will anything that God does not will. (Thomas Merton, The Waters of Siloe, 1949)